Cast & Crew
In 1924, prize-winning novelist Kit Marlowe returns to her home town to give a lecture and is greeted by her old friend, Millie Drake. In the years since they last saw each other, Millie has married and is now pregnant with her first child, news that Kit learns first from Millie's husband Preston. At first Millie is upset that Kit does not seem eager to see her, but later, after Kit apologizes, Millie confesses that she too has written a book designed to be a best seller. Eight years later, Millie is a wealthy and successful writer of popular fiction. She and Preston and their eight-year-old daughter Deirdre are in New York City to attend the opening of Kit's play. Millie's success has helped destroy her marriage, however, and the afternoon before opening night, Preston, who is drinking heavily, tells Kit that he is in love with her. Replying that Millie would always be between them, Kit tries to patch up her friend's marriage, but Preston leaves Millie after asking Kit to keep an eye on Deirdre. Ten years later, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Kit joins the Red Cross and broadcasts a request for money over the radio. Preston, who is now in the army, hears Kit's speech and telephones her. Kit agrees to join him for a drink, sending Rudd Kendall, her younger lover, to fetch Deirdre as a surprise for Preston. Preston surprises Kit as well when he announces his engagement. The next morning, Rudd, having received his commission, begs Kit to marry him immediately. Because of the difference in their ages, Kit turns him down, and a disappointed Rudd joins the now-grown Deirdre for a walk. The two spend the day together and fall in love. In the meantime, Kit changes her mind about Rudd and reveals her plans to marry him to Millie. After Preston tells Millie he is remarrying and wants to see Deirdre more often, he confesses that he was once in love with Kit. Overcome with jealousy, Millie tells Deirdre about Kit's marriage plans and then accuses Kit of stealing her husband. Fed up with her friend's tantrums, Kit gives Millie a thorough shaking. That night Rudd breaks the news to Kit that he has fallen in love with Deirdre. Although it is a shock, Kit pretends to be delighted and rushes off to make sure that a disillusioned Deirdre does not miss her chance for a happy marriage. Later, Millie stops by Kit's apartment to apologize and Kit forgives her. Millie then describes her new book, Old Acquaintance , about two longtime women friends, and the two women drink to it.
Philip Van Zandt
Major Sam Harris
Leo F. Forbstein
Robert B. Lee
Fred M. Maclean
John Van Druten
Jack L. Warner
Bette Davis as Kit Marlowe in Old Acquaintance.
Warner Bros. mixed equal parts of champagne, soap and bile for this popular 1943 woman's picture, with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins co-starring as novelists who become literary and romantic rivals. One of the most gossiped about films of its time, Old Acquaintance opened to high expectations for on-screen cattiness that it more than satisfied.
The catfight started early for Davis. Considering her power at the box office, she should have been first choice for every major female role at Warner Bros. When they bought the rights to John Van Druten's hit play in the early '40s, however, they were planning it as a vehicle for Rosalind Russell. On stage, Old Acquaintance had been a sophisticated comedy. Russell had just scored a hit for Warners in another high comic romp, No Time for Comedy (1940), and seemed a natural for the role of Kit Marlowe, an unmarried novelist with an unbridled wit and a string of failed love affairs. They were even willing to pay her $150,000 for the new film, much more than anything they'd have to pay Davis. But when problems with the Production Code Administration over the leading lady's love life slowed script development, Russell accepted a role in My Sister Eileen (1942) at Columbia, and production delays forced her to withdraw. They then turned to Irene Dunne, who dragged her heels while director Edmund Goulding tried to develop a suitable script. Finally Dunne withdrew, and the studio approached Davis, offering her a choice of roles: sweet but tough Kit or temperamental Millie.
Initially, the studio considered teaming her with Mary Astor, who had scored a hit and an Oscar® opposite Davis in The Great Lie (1941). The natural choice would have been to repeat their casting, with Davis as the good friend and Astor as the bad one. As a result, Davis agreed to play Kit. Then studio head Jack Warner decided the project needed a bigger star as Millie. Miriam Hopkins had appeared memorably in Davis's biggest hit of the '30s, The Old Maid (1939), despite off-screen fireworks between the stars, so they offered the role to her. Then she made so many demands -- $5,000 a week salary, complete control over her hair, makeup and costumes -- that they dropped the matter. But neither Margaret Sullavan nor the recently retired Norma Shearer would consider playing a character as nasty as Millie. Producer Henry Blanke suggested casting Janet Gaynor against type (she was usually bubbly and upbeat on screen) but Goulding felt it wouldn't work. Finally, they went back to Hopkins and worked out a compromise.
Memories of Hopkins' off-screen antics during The Old Maid threw Davis and Goulding, who had directed the film, into a panic. Then they started fighting over the choice of cameraman. When Hopkins started making more demands, Goulding had a heart attack, so the studio replaced him with rising young director Vincent Sherman, thereby prompting Goulding's speedy recovery. Davis wasn't sure of Sherman, though, and sat out the first week of shooting, claiming ill health. Then she showed up on the set with her agent to ask how the film was going. He offered to show her the first week of rushes, and she was delighted with the controlled performance he had gotten out of Hopkins. She complimented him on his work with her, and then asked when he wanted her on the set. They started shooting the next day.
But it was not a peaceful set. Hopkins immediately started pulling every trick she could to upstage Davis and throw her off. She kept coming up with props that covered Davis's face or things to fuss with during the star's big speeches. When Davis tried to discuss scenes with her, she feigned hearing problems, producing a large, elaborate hearing aid that never seemed to work. Finally the day came to shoot the characters' big showdown, in which Davis was supposed to shake Hopkins viciously and then throw her into a chair. The set was mobbed with on-lookers, eager to see the fur fly. But when Davis went to shake her, Hopkins went limp, flopping around like a rag doll. Sherman explained that she needed to offer some resistance or the scene would get laughs. But each time they re-took it, Hopkins just went limp again until Davis walked off the set in disgust. Finally, Sherman got his stars back together and managed to get a few shots he could edit together.
The leading ladies' notorious clashes slowed production significantly, with the shoot lasting almost twice as long as scheduled. Although this drove the executives mad, it provided one benefit for Davis. At Goulding's urging, Davis had agreed to cast screen newcomer Gig Young as the naval officer Kit loses to her rival's adult daughter. Although both were married, and Young was five years younger, he and Davis carried their on-screen relationship into their private lives with a series of late-night trysts in her dressing room. When his wife asked where he had been, Young could blame his late hours on the film's notorious delays. The affair would not last beyond Young's role in the film -- he had to finish early because he had been called up for World War II service -- but the friendship would remain strong for the rest of their lives.
With work still remaining on the film, Davis developed a new romantic interest. After a late-night shoot, Sherman drove her home, and she admitted that she had fallen in love with him. They spoke for hours in his car, but before anything could happen they were interrupted by Davis's mother, who ordered Hollywood's biggest female star into the house. When production finally ended, Davis invited Sherman to meet her in Mexico, where she was going for a much-needed vacation. Then Davis's husband, Arthur Farnsworth, paid Sherman a visit and told the director he was trying to save his marriage to the star. Sherman was happily married at the time, so he begged off his rendezvous with Davis. They would finally get together the following year, when he directed her in Mr. Skeffington (1944). Sherman claimed he embarked on the affair in hopes that it would help him control the temperamental star. It didn't.
With all the off-screen scandal and Davis's undeniable popularity in the '40s, Old Acquaintance couldn't miss at the box office. Critics admired the performances of the two stars, though some carped that the film had turned the sophisticated comedy into more of a soap opera (largely because of Davis's and Sherman's re-writes during shooting). Rich and Famous, a 1981 remake starring Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen under George Cukor's direction tried to reinstate the humor and the sex in the story, but failed at the box office. Fans continue to value the original because of Davis's performance in a totally sympathetic role (she often said Kit was closer to the real Davis than any character she'd ever played) and the on-screen sparks generated by the film's dueling divas.
Producer: Henry Blanke
Director: Vincent Sherman
Screenplay: Lenore J. Coffee, John Van Druten, based on the play by Van Druten
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Art Direction: John Hughes
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Bette Davis (Kit Marlowe), Miriam Hopkins (Millie Drake), Gig Young (Rudd Kendall), John Loder (Preston Drake), Dolores Moran (Deirdre), Philip Reed (Lucian Grant), Roscoe Karns (Charlie Archer), Anne Revere (Belle Carter).
BW-111m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
There comes a time in every woman's life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.- Katherine 'Kitty' Marlowe
Bette Davis personally requested the casting of Norma Shearer in the role of Mildred Drake. Shearer refused the role and the part went to Miriam Hopkins.
According to an Los Angeles Times news item dated January 22, 1941, Warner Bros. purchased the John Van Druten play for $75,000. The play was performed for President Franklin D. Roosevelt on his birthday. The MPPA initially objected to the Van Druten play because "Kit" and "Rudd" live together before "Rudd" becomes involved with "Deidre." This was changed in the screenplay. Hollywood Reporter news items add the following information about the production: Olivia De Havilland was considered for a role in the film and Franchot Tone was scheduled to play the male lead, which had been announced for George Brent before the latter enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. Tone later turned down the role because, under the terms of a government wage freeze order, the studio was not permitted to pay him for his work on this film. Tone was reportedly willing to turn over his salary to a charity, but the Byrnes Act did not allow that option. The Byrnes Act prohibited an actor from earning more than the salary he or she had been paid immediately previous to October 27, 1942 when the law went into effect, and Tone's earnings the previous year had been uncharacteristically low because of illness.
The Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library adds the following information about the production: Jerome Cowan tested for the role of "Preston" and Rosalind Russell and Irene Dunne were considered for the role of "Kit." Although Edmund Goulding worked on early versions of the screenplay, he waived writing credit on the screenplay. The extent of his contribution is unknown. A October 30, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item notes that Irving Rapper would replace Edmund Goulding as director because of the latter's illness. According to a modern source, when Edmund Goulding had a heart attack before filming started he was replaced by Vincent Sherman.
Modern sources add that cameraman Sol Polito was assigned at Bette Davis' request. During rehearsals for the scene when "Millie" rages against "Kit" for stealing her husband, Miriam Hopkins tried to distract and upstage Davis. Although Davis did not lose her temper with Hopkins in public, she never worked with her again. Miriam Hopkins reprised her role in a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on May 29, 1944, co-starring Alexis Smith. Television versions of the play were broadcast on November 14, 1951 on ABC and November 29, 1956 on NBC. In 1976 Universal announced a planned remake, but this film was never made. Van Druten's play was also the basis for the 1981 MGM/UA film Rich and Famous starring Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset and directed by George Cukor.